Muscles, Murder, and a Messiah

Ex-cop and bodybuilder Gil Fernandez Jr. murdered three men in the Everglades. But he only admits to killing the man he was.

This is the first of two parts.

It should have been his last job.

Richard "Dickie" Robertson was getting out, going straight. On April 1, 1983, Robertson had orchestrated a deal to sell 20 kilos of cocaine, worth roughly $300,000. And the timing couldn't have been better. He'd just purchased a house in Fort Lauderdale with his longtime girlfriend, Linda Allard. They had a daughter, Nicole, and they looked forward to life in a new neighborhood near Griffin Road.

"He promised me that this was going to be it," Allard later testified in court. "We stood to make a lot of money, and he was going to get out of the business."

Still, that day, Allard was nervous. Something was different this time. "A woman's intuition," Allard explained. She pressed her 26-year-old boyfriend about the deal. It's OK, he assured her. The buyers, he said, had a "family atmosphere."

"He said [the buyers were] three guys," Allard said. "One of them was a spic."

Around 1 p.m., Robertson — dressed in blue Sergio Valente jeans and a black T-shirt that read "Eat Shit and Die" — left in his shiny, black, 1983 Chevy Camaro Z28. He picked up his partners, Walter Leahy Jr., 25, and Alfred Tringali, 31, and headed for a house in Hollywood.

Gil Fernandez Jr. was waiting.

Inside the Hollywood house, the six-foot, 275-pound Fernandez sat quietly in the living room. A decorated but troubled street cop with the Miami-Dade Police Department, Fernandez went by the nickname "The Hulk." He was enormous and menacing, a champion bodybuilder with a second-degree black belt in karate. No one knows exactly when Fernandez transformed from courageous lawman to ferocious thug, but by the day Robertson and his crew drove toward the house, Fernandez held little regard for life, liberty, or justice.

Fernandez was accompanied by fellow bodybuilders Tommy Felts and Michael Carbone. Felts waited by the door. Carbone hid in a bedroom, a Thompson submachine gun by his side.

Robertson and his partners arrived. They knocked, holding a styrofoam ice chest filled with cocaine. Felts answered and motioned the three men into the living room. Hearing them, Fernandez stormed toward the guests. He threw Robertson to the floor and jammed a pistol into his mouth.

"You fucked over the boss!" Fernandez yelled.

Carbone ran into the living room, bringing to the house a silent terror as he held the enormous machine gun. Nervous, he pointed the firearm at Fernandez.

"Point the gun at those guys, not at me," Fernandez instructed him.

Felts pulled out kilo after kilo of cocaine from the ice chest. There were only eight, not 20, but it didn't matter. Fernandez and his muscled partners had no intention of paying for the drugs.

Robertson's pager beeped. It was Allard; she knew something had gone wrong. A few minutes later, it beeped again. "Who is trying to call you?" Fernandez asked, grabbing the pager and smashing it to the floor.

The Miami cop then slipped on weight-lifting gloves and tied the three men's hands behind their backs. He wrapped brown cloth around their heads, covering their eyes.

They pleaded.

They begged.

Take the coke. Just let us go.

They didn't want to die.

Felts stuffed paper towels into their mouths, stifling their terrified pleas.

With Carbone guarding the detained men, Fernandez and Felts left the house. They took Robertson's new Camaro and left it abandoned in a nearby wooded area. They returned around 8 p.m. to the house in Hollywood.

"The boss wants to see you," Fernandez told the three men.

He and his fellow bodybuilders piled their captives into Carbone's white 1980 Pontiac Grand Prix. They drove west on Griffin Road, passing the new subdivisions being built, including the one in which Robertson had just bought a home for his family. The road ended at U.S. 27, a desolate highway that runs along the edge of the Everglades. Fernandez knew the area well. As a street cop, he used to patrol the northwest fringes of Miami-Dade County.

Fernandez had in mind a narrow gravel road that splinters off U.S. 27, just south of the Broward County line. The road dips down toward an embankment, then follows along a canal that leads deep into the mosquito-infested marshlands. The two dozen people who lived in nearby trailers at Jones Fish Camp called the gravel path Danger Road. Littered with clothing and old appliances, Danger Road was the perfect spot for illegal dumping. Not many people came out here, and Fernandez knew this was the place to get rid of things that you didn't want to be found.

Late in the night, Felts turned the Grand Prix onto Danger Road and parked. Fernandez ordered the three captives out of the vehicle. The three men were bound, gagged, and blindfolded. It was hot. Bugs chirped. The cars on U.S. 27 hummed in the distance.

Fernandez walked down toward the canal and forced one of the men into the water. "He told the individual to kneel; then I heard a gunshot," Carbone would later testify. "And then I heard a splash of water."

Fernandez called for the next man. Felts brought him over. A muzzle flashed.

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